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SGI punts baby Xeon blade box

Going back to its Origins

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While a lot of server makers are merely talking up how their existing machines support the new six-core "Westmere-EP" Xeon 5600 processors from Intel, which launched today and which offer some advantages over prior generations of x64 chips, Silicon Graphics is actually putting a new Xeon 5600 machine into the field.

That new machine, the Origin 400, is aimed at small and medium businesses, and harkens back to a midrange business that Silicon Graphics (the original one) used to chase with its Origin machines from the 1990s (remember the Origin 200 and 300 entry servers?) and that Rackable Systems never really pursued either before or after it took over SGI's business and its name last May.

Being a modern machine, the Origin 400 is of course a baby blade server, and it includes an integrated SAS/RAID storage area network for the blades to share. The 6U chassis fits in a normal 19-inch rack and will probably be available in a standalone configuration tipped up on its side at some point to chase the office environment.

The chassis has room for six two-socket x64 blades, and is based on Intel's 5520 chipset and supports the new six-core and four-core Xeon 5600 family of chips as well as last year's four-core and two-core Xeon 5500s. Each blade has a dozen DDR3 memory slots and supports DDR3 DIMMs running at 800MHz, 1GHz, and 1.3GHz. Using 8GB DIMMs, memory tops out at 96GB, and using the six-core Xeon 5600s, the number of cores in the chassis tops out at 72.

The blade has two Gigabit Ethernet ports and SAS ports to link the blade servers to the in-chassis baby SAN. The SAN is constructed not from Fibre Channel controllers, but rather dual SAS RAID controllers that are battery-backed and support RAID 0, 1, 1E, 5, 6, and 10; these controllers link to up to 14 2.5-inch disks that slot into the chassis (in hot-swap fashion) and that offer up to 4.2TB of local, shared disk capacity and hook out to the blades through a SAS switch.

The blades don't have their own local disks, and the SAS RAID controllers set multiple, virtual shared storage pools for the blades to access rather than hard-wiring a particular disk to a particular blade. The SAS controllers do have ports that allow for external InfiniteStorage arrays to be linked to the blades, and the chassis has room for two Gigabit Ethernet switches with ten ports each for lashing the servers together (if you want to do that) and to the outside network (which you have to do to make a server useful). The controller also allows for a blade to fail and then another one in the box to boot off its LUN and reboot with its operating system and applications.

The Origin 400 chassis has 3+1 redundant power supplies rated at 1,000 watts each, and is rated to run on wall power as well as 240-volt. It has redundant, hot-swap cooling fan units as well.

The Origin 400 blade servers will support Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 and 200, plus Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 5 and Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 and 11. On the hypervisor front, SGI will support VMware's ESX Server 4.0, Citrix Systems' XenServer 5.5, and Microsoft's Hyper-V R2, and Oracle's eponymous and MySQL databases. Microsoft's SQL Server 2008 will also be supported on the machine.

The Origin 400 blade server will be predominantly available through SGI's channel partners rather than sold directly, according to Geoffrey Noer, senior director of product marketing at SGI. As such, SGI is not providing list or suggested street pricing for the box. This move mirrors the channel focus that SGI used with last year's debut of the Octane III "personal supercomputer" last September. Despite the channel focus, SGI did say the Octane III had a suggested price of $7,995.

El Reg asked how many channel partners SGI had pushing the Origin 400 and who they were by name, but SGI declined to be specific. But whoever they are, they don't want SGI mucking things up by giving out base configurations and prices.

This, of course, cuts against the very grain of the SMB server racket, where every machine is online, reconfigurable, and priced. Some of Rackable's pre-SGI bad habits, such as not giving out prices, die hard. ®

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